5 U SPORTS players to watch in the 2022 Canadian Championsip

VANCOUVER, BC – The Canadian Championship returns on Tuesday night, in a historic year for Canadian soccer. With ten clubs drawn into preliminary matchups and Pacific FC, CF Montreal and Toronto FC getting byes, the search for Canada’s CONCACAF Champions League berth is underway. 

Since the introduction of the CPL to the Canadian Championship and the following addition of League 1 Ontario and Premier Ligue Soccer Quebec, many U SPORTS players have graced the Voyageurs Cup pitch. Yet, in 2022, the chance for major impact is greater than ever. 

Here are five current and former U SPORTS players to watch in this year’s Canadian Championship.

Yuba-Rayan Yesli – Valour (Montreal Carabins)

Matchup: Valour FC vs Whitecaps FC (Wednesday, 7:00 pm PT)

(Valour FC)

Standing at 6-foot-7, Yuba-Rayan Yesli is the tallest player in the CPL and the Canadian Championship. While he has not played a game for Valour FC, the U SPORTS selection out of the University of Montreal will start against the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps, with #1 goalkeeper Jonathan Sirois ineligible to play. 

Yesli never got a season under his belt with the Carabins, but he wil no doubt be their starting goalkeeper if he doesn’t land a permanent pro deal with the Winnipeg club. While his height is instantly noticeable and significant advantage, he has quality with the ball at his feet and in distributions. 

Yesli was Valour’s first pick, third overall, in the CPL’s 2021 U-Sports Draft, and spent most of the year with the club, sitting behind Sirois and veteran Matt Silva. Now, he gets his chance in a potential Cup upset. 

“He’s someone who is always going to put himself in a position to play and fight for playing time and playing opportunities,” Phil Dos Santos told Valour’s website. “That’s what we want. We don’t want anyone to be too comfortable.”

However, it won’t be Rayan-Yesli’s first Canadian Championship match, having played for  AS Blainville in a 2-1 loss to HFX Wanderers in the 2021 Voyageurs Cup. 

Kairo Coore –  FC Edmonton (Cape Breton Capers)

Matchup: FC Edmonton vs Cavalry FC (Tuesday, 7:30 MT)

(Cape Breton Capers)

A draft pick from 2022, Cape Breton Capers forward Kairo Coore has not gotten much playing time with FC Edmonton in CPL play this season; however, that could change for the Canadian Championship. 

While he has made five appearances and hasn’t scored a professional goal, Coore has shown his goalscoring prowess at the university level and has not looked out of place in his 179 minutes with Edmonton. 

The Eddies play Cavalry in the first round, a club they have never beaten and recently lost to, meaning there could be squad rotation for head coach Alan Koch and potentially more involvement for one of the best goalscorers from the 2021 U SPORTS season. 

Colin Gander – HFX Wanderers (Guelph Gryphons)

Matchup: HFX Wanderers vs Guelph Gryphons (Tuesday, 7:00 pm ET)

(HFX Wanderers)

For Colin Gander, playing on the football gridiron at Alumni Stadium in Guelph won’t be odd, he played there just last season with the Guelph Gryphons and Guelph United, both under head coach Keith Mason, his opponent on Tuesday. 

It will be an odd one for the United players and Gander, but he has every right to be playing for the CPL club with how he has performed this season. The 21-year-old has not looked out of place through four appearances, winning each of his aerial duels and picking up three interceptions. 

Playing mainly at left-back, in a more advanced position, Gander will have the potential to run the left side for Halifax, potentially establishing himself for further playing time in Halifax’s lineup. He has been solid on a U SPORTS contract in the CPL this season but will likely head back to school in th fall, making the matchup even more compelling. 

Lukas MacNaughton – Toronto FC (Toronto Varsity Blues)

Matchup: Toronto FC vs Winner of Halifax/Guelph

(Sean Pollock)

Lukas MacNaughton was a part of the Pacific FC team that were giant killers, taking down the Vancouver Whitecaps last season in the first round. Now, he’s on one of the big clubs with Toronto FC, looking to win his first Canadian Championship. 

The former Pacific centreback took some time to settle but has found his feet with TFC, albeit the club’s recent struggles. Regularly starting on a four-man backline featuring LIGA MX veteran Carlos Salcedo, MaNughton hasn’t looked out of place, with 80% passing and 11 interceptions. 

He’s a veteran in the game, despite being in his first season in MLS, and will play an essential role if Toronto finds some form, and enough to push them to a 9th Voayegurs Cup. 

If TFC don’t advance past the second round of the 2022 tournament, they will have a chance later this summer to win the 2020 Candian Championship, with the final match finally being played against Forge in Hamilton. 

Jace Kotsopoulos – Guelph United (Guelph Gryphons)

Matchup: HFX Wanderers vs Guelph Gryphons (Tuesday, 7:00 pm ET)

(Guelph United)

Playing for the underdogs, Jace Kotsopoulos comes into the Canadian Championship with CPL experience. However, he has the quality to have a place in the league next season when more players are called upon. A former York9 and Forge FC member, Kotsopoulos wasn’t able to land a contract for this season but could help eliminate the HFX Wanderers. 

The former CPLer has scored 15 goals through 14 appearances with Guelph United and was potent in the box at the U SPORTS level, scoring at a near goal-per-match pace with 58 in 61 matches. 

While the 5’ 7” striker hasn’t scored through two weeks in the League 1 Ontario season, he will no doubt test the Halifax backline, which is not too quick with Aiden Daniels and Peter Schaale. 

Kostoplous is playing with house money on Guelph United in the Canadian Championship, but for a player of his stature, there wil be an extra impetus on impressing CPL eyes as he looks to work his way back into the league. 

The 2022 Canadian Championship kicks off on Tuesday night, with the second round of preliminary matches taking place on Wednesday, streaming live on OneSoccer.

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